Aerospace Club Aims Higher This Year

By Steven Cooper in Campus


A disassembled white and orange rocket body about 6 feet long lies on a table. The rocket is made out of fiberglass, has a custom-made carbon-fiber nose cone, a hand-sewn parachute and two altimeters in case one fails.

“This rocket produced 20 Gs and 550 pounds of thrust,” said professor Keith Stansbury, adviser to the Clark Aerospace club.

That rocket was from last year. This year Stansbury says the club has even loftier goals.

The Clark Aerospace club is preparing for the annual NASA student launch competition in Huntsville, Alabama on April 10, 2015.

The team is building a 29-pound rocket 10 feet tall intended to reach an altitude of 3,000 feet.

Those requirements are similar to the requirements of past years. However, in what Stansbury says is a first, the team must also build an autonomous robot capable of placing a simulated sample of Martian soil in the payload compartment of the rocket.

The competition is divided into two tiers. Teams have the choice of competing in either the “maxi” or the “mini” category. Both tiers require a robot to place the soil sample in the rocket, but only the maxi category requires another automated system to both raise the rocket from a horizontal orientation to a vertical orientation and insert the motor igniter.

Clark is one of 23 teams competing in the maxi category. Some of the other schools competing include Cornell University, University of Notre Dame, the United States Naval Academy and Georgia Institute of Technology. Clark is the only community college competing in the maxi category.

After the club was created in spring 2011, the Clark Aerospace club has competed in the NASA competition every year.

However, according to the student Jason Petker, mission director for this year’s completion, last year was the first year Clark actually had a rocket to fly at the competition.

“The very first year we tried, it was too long of a process to try to acquire funding for the project, so they weren’t able to continue with it,” Petker said. The next year the rocket was damaged during a test launch when the wind dragged it through some rocks.

Last year’s competition at the Bonneville salt flats in Utah was their first time launching a rocket at the competition.

“We were the first ones off the pad,” Petker said. “We had former astronaut Charles Precourt press the button and launch it.”

Although the rocket functioned exactly as intended, Clark fell short of fourth place, which is the minimum necessary to be ranked.

“There were 16 teams total that flew down there out of the original 34 that started the competition. So we were already in the top 16,” Petker said.

Petker said they’re hoping to do even better this year.

According to a schedule the club submitted to NASA, the team will assemble a functional sub-scale rocket and then launch it on Dec. 8. The team will then finish calculations for the full-size rocket by Jan. 1, before building the rocket and conducting a test launch on Feb. 14 in Brothers, Oregon.

The project will be funded by a grant requested from the Clark College Foundation and approved by President Bob Knight and Dean of STEM Peter Williams. Petker also said they are seeking sponsorship from both local businesses as well as big-name corporations like Boeing, SpaceX and Lockheed Martin.

Petker said they have about 12 club members working on designing the rocket and robot, but that number could grow. “There are probably 10 people that are interested that are still trying to clear their schedules,” Petker said.

Last year the club only had eight members. Petker attributes the club’s growth to the team’s success last year.

“Due to that success and coming back with a completed rocket, we were able to present to all the engineering classes last year as well as the beginning of this year,” Petker said.

The club hopes for success this year to continue that growth.

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